With one-in-every 80 women at risk of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime and around 1500 Australian women diagnosed every year, ovarian cancer is a topic we really should be talking about more.
After speaking to numerous women about what they actually understood about ovarian cancer and its symptoms. it became obvious that many of us are, in fact, pretty confused when it comes to the topic. It was also clear that there are many myths surrounding ovarian cancer — in particular, regarding how it can be detected.
Because of this, we thought it was time we reached out to an expert who could arm us with the facts and information we need to know. Cue, Dr Yeh Chen Lee, a medical oncologist with a special interesting in treating gynaecological cancers and an active research fellow on ANZGOG, which is the peak gynaecological cancer research body for Australia and New Zealand. Below she answers our most asked questions.
How do you know if you are at risk of developing ovarian cancer?
If a few of your close relatives had breast or ovarian cancer, you may be at risk of ovarian cancer. Some medical conditions, such as endometriosis, can increase your risk of ovarian cancer.
Can ovarian cancer by genetic?
Yes. Approximately 15 percent of ovarian cancer can be hereditary. Women who inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations have a substantially increased risk of ovarian and breast cancers. If you are concerned you might be at risk of ovarian cancer, there is a simple questionnaire to help you access your risk called the "Know Your Risk Tool" from Pink Hope.
What are some of the early signs or symptoms?
The classical symptoms included bloating, feeling unusually full after eating, abdominal discomfort, and feeling easily tired. These symptoms can be vague and there are a number of other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. However, if the symptoms persist and do not resolve over several weeks, you should see your doctor for investigation. If you are still concerned you should request a referral to a gynaecological oncologist.
There's a lot of talk about bloating being a sign of ovarian cancer. Why is this and should we be concerned?
Bloating is a common symptom of ovarian cancer, however, there are also a number of other medical conditions that can cause bloating. The main thing is to have this checked out by your doctor and if the symptom persists, return to your doctor for a further check-up.
How can ovarian cancer be detected?
There is no simple test to detect ovarian cancer. Diagnosis may involve a range of tests, including blood tests, scans and biopsy.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about ovarian cancer?
1) A Pap Smear is a test for cervical cancer, but not a test for ovarian cancer.
2) Although most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are in their 60s, young women may develop ovarian cancer too.
Is there anything we can to do reduce our risk factors?
There are several basic lifestyle approaches that may reduce our risk of developing ovarian cancer: avoid tobacco smoking, maintain a healthy weight and avoid hormone replacement therapy unless medically indicated.
How likely are we to develop ovarian cancer?
About 1 in 80 women develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime. About 1500 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.
What is the prognosis like for those who develop ovarian cancer?
Unfortunately, most women are diagnosed when their cancer is already at an advanced stage (stage three). Only about 45 percent of women survive more than five years after diagnosis for ovarian cancer.
With such a high mortality rate, why don't we yet have any early detection tools?
There is no one simple test effective enough to detect ovarian cancer early. That is why it is important to raise awareness about ovarian cancer so that women can access information about their risk of developing ovarian cancer and be proactive to discuss any concerning symptoms with their doctor.
If someone has concerns or worries regarding any ovarian cancer symptoms, what should their next step be?
These symptoms can be vague and are often related to other less serious health problems. However, should these symptoms intensity or persist for more than a couple of weeks, the first step is to visit your family doctor for a check-up. If you are still concerned after this visit, request a referral to a gynaecological oncologist.